“Stigma is the biggest barrier facing HIV

Will Dalgeish, HIV activist.

By Morven McIntyre

World AIDS Day occurred on December 1st yet there is still stigma surrounding the virus.

Will Dalgeish is an activist for people with HIV plus those affected by it, and talks about the continued struggles for those with the virus.

He was diagnosed with HIV when he was 29. He’s now 52 and he wants people to know that you can still live a fulfilling life as an HIV-positive person.

He spoke to us about his advocacy:

 

Many people fail to get tested for HIV because of stigma and therefore, many are not on treatment that prevents them from transmitting the disease.

HIV is a virus that spreads through bodily fluids that attacks the body’s immune system.

Once diagnosed, there is treatment available that can give the right viral loads making the virus untransmittable. If not treated it can become AIDS.

Dr Roger Wong, HIV Consultant in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: “Thankfully there have been huge advances in the treatment of HIV over the years and people diagnosed with HIV can now expect to live full healthy lives. With treatment, the amount of virus in the blood can become undetectable meaning that HIV cannot be passed to others.

“In spite of this, misconceptions about HIV persist and many people experience stigma and discrimination which is often the most difficult part of living with the condition. This year, on World AIDS Day, we are helping to promote a message that challenges this stigma and underlines the effectiveness of current HIV treatments – it’s called Undetectable=Untransmittable.”

Dr Wong added: “Stigma linked to HIV sometimes puts people off from taking an HIV test. So HIV hasn’t gone away. Last year 88 people in the [Glasgow] area were diagnosed with HIV with a total of 228 across Scotland.”

“There’s a lot that can be done to prevent transmission of HIV, including knowing the facts about HIV and how it’s passed on, understanding the risks associated with sex and injecting drugs, and getting tested regularly.”

Chairman of Waverley Care, Scotland’s HIV and Hepatitis C charity, Grant Sudgen, said that there is support available to those diagnosed with the virus:

“Helping people to know their status, to access testing, to provide education and we also provide support to people living with the condition as well.”

“The public knowledge of HIV hasn’t really moved on as much since it was 1980 where it was seen as a terminal condition and I don’t really feel that people’s understanding has advanced as quickly as treatment has.”

“I think one of the most challenging things is HIV stigma. It has an impact on people living with HIV in terms of it affects their physical and mental health, their relationships, who they can tell about their HIV.

“But it can also make people fearful of being tested for HIV. I think we need to continue doing so much more to challenge HIV stigma and counter the myths and give people up to date information about HIV and what it means in 2018.”